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Management: Problem-Solving Through Sincere Listening - Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Problem-Solving Through Sincere Listening

Executive Leadership Articles

Management: Problem-Solving Through Sincere Listening

The new ninth-grader came with a young teenager’s lifetime of baggage. His two previous private schools had admitted him based on his obvious intelligence. The same schools had dismissed him for unruly behavior—nothing dangerous or violent, but a tendency to interrupt class with impulsive outbursts, or to get rambunctious in the hallways between classes. The teachers at his third school in five years were ready for him, though, because this was not a school for troubled boys, but a school for students with learning difficulties.

It took some time (and a lot of in-school suspensions), but as the young man learned more about his difficulties and how to manage them, and as teachers put into his hands the tools that would help him with his reading issues, two glorious things happened. First, the student confirmed to himself what he’d always know: that he was really, really smart. Second, his behavioral issues lessened until, by the time he was in twelfth grade, they weren’t issues at all. He would always be impulsive and energetic, but the frustration the young learner didn’t know how to express at his own difficulties in the classroom had given way to self-awareness and academic success.

This is a long illustration of how one glaring problem—a student’s unmanageable behavior—was solved because his eventual teachers treated the behavior as the symptom, not the malady. We live in a world where it seems most helpful to fix a problem where it appears on the surface, not to address the deep-rooted issues that manifest themselves in the problem. Make a new rule. Take away privileges. Set an ultimatum. Fire someone. We take these actions because they look decisive; they look like strong leadership. Compassion and empathy take time, and they often look to observers like being soft or coddling.

People are complicated creatures, and what looks like a problem with performance or competence could really be something else, and what really separates a good manager from a bad one is his or her ability to work with these complicated creatures. Anyone can drive a Ferrari down a straight highway, but it takes a skilled driver to take an off-roader up a twisty, unpaved mountain trail. If you’re lucky enough to have a fleet of Ferraris and endless straight highways, you’re probably also a unicorn. Most of us have the off-roaders and the dirt paths.

Which brings us to listening. A good article in Inc. calls empathy “the basic quality many leaders keep getting wrong.” Empathy is a separate quality from the ability to listen, but listening is one expression of empathy most obviously involved in problem solving. Uneven performance by someone on the team may not be incompetence or chronic forgetfulness, but the symptom of enormous stress, an undiagnosed depression, bereavement, or sleep disorders. And maybe the team member never brings it up because he or she doesn’t want to make excuses, or maybe because he or she doesn’t think anyone will care.

But you care. Forbes magazine underlines the importance of caring, offering six ways better listening makes you a better leader. Being engaged, having empathy, and not judging are all powerful tools in good listening, but before even those comes caring. Add the rest (with an emphasis on not judging!) and you’re more likely to get to the heart of the issue, to help someone with a very real problem, and to solve your own problems while keeping good people on board.

Reference Links:
Inc.: https://www.inc.com/justin-bariso/empathy-the-basic-quality-many-leaders-keep-getting-wrong.html
Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/glennllopis/2013/05/20/6-effective-ways-listening-can-make-you-a-better-leader

 

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Management: Problem-Solving Through Sincere Listening - Executive Leadership Articles

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